Stephen Teeling

Teeling aims for growth

04 April, 2024

Irish whiskey brand looks to new and growing markets as its relationship with Bacardi offers new opportunities.

In December, Bacardi took majority control of Teeling Whiskey – six years after the Bermuda-based spirits group first invested in the brand in a move that has always appeared to be a shrewd one. Since it began producing in its Dublin city centre distillery in 2015, Teeling has been the most likely of Irish whiskey’s new wave to challenge the hegemony of the Pernod-backed Irish Distillers.

That’s in part due to the quality of the liquids and the story of how two brothers brought distilling back to the Irish capital, but also how the brand’s partnership with Bacardi has allowed it to spread further in the US, the world’s largest Irish whiskey market. Now, co-founder Stephen Teeling hopes this model can be replicated in other markets to help bring Teeling to the world.

“Off the back of the success that we've had in the US with Bacardi, it’s a good opportunity for us now to scale as a brand,” he explains. “So, we’re switching distribution in the UK, Sweden, Germany and other key European markets. They’re markets that we have been working in before getting involved with Bacardi but now the opportunity is there to go deeper.

“From an on-trade perspective, there's a huge opportunity to evolve. We’re focused on the future, there are opportunities now emerging, particularly in the premium or super-premium end of the category, that just weren’t there 10 or 15 years ago and we’re trying our best to get in front of as many consumers as possible who are ready to try a different style Irish whiskey and, to do that, we need to evolve our route to market.

“Bacardi sees the opportunity for us from an Irish whiskey standpoint, and we think that what we’re bringing to the table will enhance its offering. We’ve been laying down whiskey for a considerable amount of time, and we’ve been expanding our production to take advantage of the opportunity – now we're looking to take [the brand] to the next stage.”

It's not just the brand that has evolved – Irish whiskey is almost unrecognisable to the category that the Teeling brothers entered just a decade ago. In 2010, the island boasted four distilleries, today there are more than 40.

“The landscape has changed,” says Teeling. “When we started, nobody was in our space and now there are 30 to 40 new Irish whiskey projects all targeting the premium or super-premium end of the category. We believe that we now have a unique opportunity to break out and reach more people, and with Bacardi, we’ve seen when we get it right from a route-to-market perspective. The US is our biggest market by a significant factor. Last year we signed our first major sponsorship, a three-year deal with Notre Dame Athletics, its first-ever spirits partner – four or five years ago, that wouldn’t have been an option for us.

“The whole category has so much momentum now. In the next five years, half of the world's Irish whiskey will be sold in the US. So it’s still a massive market, but we're starting to see a lot of those trends trickle into other markets. Irish whiskey is growing again in a lot of the mature markets, such as Ireland, Germany and Australia, but also Africa is having a moment – Nigeria is a big growth market for Irish whiskey. South Africa is a very big market. We’re starting to see premium Irish grow quite quickly in France and India, where we’re launching in September. The macros for Irish are very positive.

“The momentum we’ve built to build the brand in a certain way in the US has given us confidence that now is the right time [for the Bacardi acquisition].”

While the brand will now be within the Bacardi group’s portfolio, Stephen and brother Jack will maintain ownership of a portion of the company and continue to run the day-to-day operations. “It’s business as usual for us. We’ve worked with Bacardi substantially from 2017 and have a very good relationship with the guys. Our perspective is that we are just trying to do more, take advantage of the opportunity we have to grow and push things forward. We just want more people to discover our whiskey.”

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